Preparing animal health services for future waves of COVID-19
Veterinary practices face countless trials from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, animal health teams have risen to the challenge with savvy solutions.
Even through a pandemic, the pace of everyday animal health services continued. It's important to bolster the foundations of success because the next wave is already impacting some parts of the country. Although hope is on the horizon with the approval of vaccines, we are still facing months of uncertainty. It's time to get your business house in order. Tune in. Tune up. And put protections in place to keep your veterinary business and team going.
Big picture items sometimes fall from view, including details of financial agreements. Therefore, pull critical files and review principals, payables and relevant renewals in these areas:
- Real estate mortgage or lease
- Other financing or recurring expenses (equipment, other loans, credit cards, etc.)
- Animal health services employee/associate contracts, including bonuses or scheduled fee upgrades
Run reports on invoicing and receivables to catch anything at risk of falling through the cracks. Better to resolve any gaps now than to trip over them later.
Many practices also added mobile point-of-service payment terminals or payment information storage in management systems, rather than taking the time and risk of clients repeating credit card information by phone or staff carrying sensitive financial information in and out of the facility.
Hybrid animal health services: in-clinic + telehealth
The pandemic also sent animal health services teams racing for telehealth and digital communication tools to stay connected with clients during hospital restrictions and adapted care protocols.
The top complaint among animal health services teams remains the handling of nonstop phone calls, both from clients at home and those waiting in the parking lot. Solutions to this dilemma include:
- Mobile app or text-based check-ins
- Two-way texting with photo and video attachment options
- Online or app-based triage, which helps clients determine what's non-threatening, worrisome, urgent, or a true emergency
Staffing for animal health services
Make plans now to maintain or re-implement cohort-based staffing teams on alternating schedules to limit possible exposure and protect the practice when Covid infections arise among team members.
Explain communication plans and limits on discussions of positive tests and symptomatic cases within the team. Privacy remains paramount from a human resources perspective, but a lack of transparency may breed distrust, worry, and feelings of risk.
Revisit discussions and addendums to your employee manual about how off-hours activities, including travel and attending large events, may affect the eligibility of individuals to work inside the hospital.
Parking lot marketing
With veterinary clients spending more time waiting outside, consider the opportunities to deliver educational entertainment, provide perks that support fellow local businesses, and build a sense of community.
Michael Shirley, cofounder of Family Pet Health in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, says, “I come at our practice from a customer's perspective, rather than a medical person's perspective." He came up with several clever strategies:
- Text message waiting clients links to your latest online content, videos, or recommended podcasts
- Revamp parking areas with better landscaping, weather protection, and safer patient hand-off areas.
- Update curbside service signage so that people easily know how to contact you on arrival and where to say they're parked.
- Add seasonal photo staging areas for people to get cute photos of their pets (or family). “We had a wife that brought her husband down and made him sit with the dogs," Shirley laughs. “That's what she wanted for her phone screensaver, so she made him pose, and they didn't even have an appointment."
- Give clients small gift certificates — such as for coffee or snacks — from locally-owned businesses also struggling during the pandemic.
- Invite local food trucks to set up in the parking lot, so that staff have access to fun, easy meals, and give clients vouchers for a free little something, such as a taco or ice cream. Encourage clients without appointments to drop by and support the food vendors, too.
- Boost your free Wi-Fi signal to reach the entire parking lot, especially if you're doing video calls during curbside appointments.
- Broadcast educational content over the radio. Shirley recently purchased an FM transmitter to sync Christmas lights to music. During the day and after the holidays, though, he plans to record 15-30 minutes of content with pet trivia and information — such as on-hold messaging — that clients in the parking lot can access via a designated radio channel. “If you get tired of listening to me talk," Shirley says, “you just change the channel on your car radio."
Predictions for 2021
Courtney Carter, AllyDVM's national accounts manager, analyzed invoicing data from a subset of the platform's users to assess the impact of the pandemic on practices providing pet care services. She looked at:
- Invoicing data from March to June 2020, compared to that same time span in 2019, and found significant drops in five core veterinary services — rabies, vaccines, wellness exams, heartworm testing, dental services.
- June 1 to December 2, 2020, for those same five services and found improvement already, not only bouncing back from early-pandemic dips but showing growth over the previous year.
“I think, honestly, that veterinary practices should continue to capitalize on the success factors of the change in protocols that they've had to adopt during the pandemic," Carter says. “Also, look internally to make sure they're rewarding their staff and really focused on their people to monitor internal burnout because they're going to need to continue to stay the course."
Quick and easy communications